As these Advent days slide by and we mail our Christmas cards and packages, many to those we will not see over the holidays this year, we are keenly aware of thoughts and feelings we never before associated with this season. Anticipation is mixed with anxiety; joy mingles with trepidation; peace is clouded by doubt.
We begin the O Antiphons, decorate our doors and trees, listen to and even sing traditional songs and carols, and long for the sights and sounds that are missing this year: familiar voices, faces now reduced to tiny squares on our screens and those we will never see again.
As I place the little mismatched figures in what passes for a crèche on my bookcase, I think of where each one came from: Mary kneeling by her baby from a superior who gave one to each of us one Christmas many years ago. Joseph standing beside her, the gift of a sister who reminded me in times of trouble to, “Go to Joseph.” A choir boy and tiny angels playing flutes and trumpets, painted by my sister many years ago.
Then I take the little vigil lights, the kind you switch on so they flicker, and something about the light—small, unsteady but persevering—lifts my wistfulness for times gone by and reminds me of what light means. The message from 1 John 1:5 reminds us that, “God is light and in him there is no darkness.” It is the darkness that frightens me, but the coming of God into our world means the end of darkness. It means hope.
And now, just when hope seemed too fragile to trust, we learn that what we have feared more than anything this past dark year may soon be a terror we can overcome. COVID-19 will be brought to its knees, not in one fell swoop, not even in one season, but there is hope for us all. As that star in the East is still rising (who knows how high it was in mid-December in Bethlehem on that first Christmas?), let us follow the light of the star as the Magi did, trusting its meaning, believing its message and finding in its light the fullest, truest expression of God with us. Emmanuel!